An eating plan designed to reduce high blood pressure in adults is being encouraged to help keep tweens and teenagers trimmer.
Researchers found that girls aged between 9 and 19 whose food intake most resembled the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet had the smallest gains in body mass index (BMI) over 10 years, and the lowest BMIs at the end of the follow-up period.
The findings indicate that educating people about healthy eating is still one of the most effective ways to tackle obesity.
The DASH diet focuses on a higher consumption of low-fat dairy products; fish, chicken and lean meats; and nuts, fruits, whole grains, vegetables.
The eating plan, which is being pushed by the American Heart Association, leads to significant blood pressure reduction.
‘I think these were the results we were hoping to find,’ said study author Dr. Jonathan Berz, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.
Acknowledging that eating healthily – as the DASH diet encourages – is likely to help keep the weight off, Berz said that this dietary study differed from previous ones because it looked at overall eating plans rather than individual foods.
It also took place over a longer timescale than many other studies.
Berz and his team looked at data from 2,237 girls, starting at age 9, who had participated in the National Growth and Health Study.
The girls were followed for up to a decade and they logged their food intake once a year in three-day diet records extending for two weekdays and one weekend day.
They were trained by a nutritionist to record the information using standard household measuring instruments to estimate portion sizes.
Each participant was then given a DASH food group score by Berz’ team which documented how closely their diet resembled the DASH diet.
Those with the highest DASH score were found to have gained the least weight at the end of the collection of data.
Conversely, more girls in the lowest DASH score group had a BMI score that indicated that they were underweight.
The study is published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine’s June issue.
Dr. Mitchell Roslin, from Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said young people tend to be better at controlling their weight if they receive behavioral therapy and dietary education.
But he feels the message of the study is still lost on most Americans, who are still getting heavier despite the abundance of information about eating healthily. Teaching people to eat healthily needs to be combined with other measures.
Dr Roslin said: ‘I don’t necessarily feel the results are earth-shattering or incredibly impressive, but I think people have to give up on the (idea) that we can educate ourselves out of the obesity epidemic.’